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November 3, 2005

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Largest lotto a long shot
National Post, Oct. 25
A record-setting Lotto 6/49 jackpot had ticket terminals buzzing as Canadians from coast to coast lined up to fork over a toonie for a chance at a distant dream. According to Larry Weldon, a professor in the statistics and actuarial department at SFU, the chance of winning a regular lottery jackpot is about one in 14 million, since there are almost 14 million different combinations of numbers that can be picked.

They're too sexy for their own good
Victoria Times Colonist, Oct. 24
A pop cultural institution since 1985, People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive title has gained a reputation for bringing personal and professional plagues upon its winners. Since the award's inception, more than half its honourees have experienced post-win relationship meltdowns, career flame-outs, public backlash and ugly run-ins with the law. Now, just before the award's 20th anniversary, People is reportedly struggling to find an actor willing to accept the title. But Barry Beyerstein, an SFU psychology professor, isn't convinced there's anything sinister afoot. “There seems to be an abhorrence in human psychology to admit that an awful lot of stuff is random,” says Beyerstein, chairman of the B.C. Society for Skeptical Enquiry. “Most people like to think there's a big karma account out there, that the laws of the universe are moral and things happen for a reason.”

Unprepared for catastrophies
Vancouver Courier, Oct. 23
Despite the images of devastation in a year of disasters less than 10 per cent of Vancouverites are prepared to deal with a calamity. Even people who study disasters for a living admit they're not as ready as they might be. John Clague, director of the Centre of Natural Hazard Research at SFU, only recently put together basic survival kits for his office and car. “I'm subject to the same foibles as everybody else,” he laughs. “It's my feeling that an individual subconsciously, maybe even in some cases consciously, factors the low probability of a disaster into their day-to-day life. Most people view that in the timeframe of their lives, driving to work is considerably more hazardous than the chance of getting killed or injured in an earthquake.”

Eyewitness accounts unreliable
Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 21
Faulty eyewitness accounts were cited as the most common cause of wrongful convictions at a recent three-day gathering of experts. “Some people have argued that trials shouldn't go forward if all you've got is one eyewitness and no physical evidence,” says Don Read, an SFU psychologist. “But lots of crimes, unfortunately, involve one victim and one perpetrator and nothing else.” One basic reform, he said, would be to make it law that police forces, in conducting a lineup, use a blind administrator who does not know who the prime suspect is in the case. “That way, he or she cannot unintentionally or intentionally lead the witness to a particular photograph,” says Read. “Police have their agenda. They want to get the bad guy and they think this is the bad guy, and they can demonstrate tunnel vision in these types of situations.”

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